Looking Back on Cancer Milestones and Anniversaries

Phyllis Johnson Health Guide
  • Cancer anniversaries are bittersweet.


    Wedding anniversaries remind us of young love or second-chance love and fill us with happy memories. 


    Anniversaries of the death of loved ones are sad.  When I'm out of sorts and can't figure out why, I often realize that the day marks an anniversary of the death of someone close to me.


    With cancer anniversaries, we want to feel happy, but we often feel sad or anxious.  We are alive.  We have conquered cancer or have at least kept death at bay for another year.  Survival calls for rejoicing, but the day we received our diagnosis was a terrible trauma.  The date triggers our memories of that anxiety, and it wells up in us again.

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    I find myself reliving cancer anniversaries all year. 


    February 14, I remember a Valentine's Day dinner party when I couldn't concentrate on the conversation because the itching in my right breast was so intense.


    Good Friday, I remember my biopsy.


    April 20, my birthday, I relive getting the phone call from my doctor.


    In early May, I get queasy and can't figure out why until I realize that it's the anniversary of my first chemo.


    In late June, I replay all the details of my mastectomy and getting the news that I had 16 cancerous lymph nodes.


    About Thanksgiving time, I'm stretched out on the table getting tattooed for radiation.


    January 15!  Thank goodness I'm done with radiation!


    My year is marked with memories.  Sometimes they flash by without affecting me too much.  Been there, done that!  Sometimes I'm unaccountably anxious until I realize what the day is.  Sometimes I find myself in full grief mode for what I've lost.


    The sweet side of those bitter memories is knowing that I'm still alive, that I've taken my ordeal and made myself a better person in many ways.  This year I was able to take all the anxiety that leads up to my cancer diagnosis anniversary and apply it to getting ready for a big party at my house.  I didn't have any time to obsess about my health because I was trying to remember where I stored the punch bowl and worrying about how many strawberries to buy to feed twenty or thirty people.  Cleaning the house took precedence over worrying about whether that pain might be bone mets.


    The party was wonderful.  We have moved from Missouri to North Carolina since I was in cancer treatment, so only four of the people present knew me before cancer.  A few didn't even know I was a survivor until they got the invitation.  Although the invitation made it clear not to bring gifts, several people couldn't resist bringing me pink flowering plants and pink ribbon items.  We had cake and coffee.  My school friends met my church friends.  People I've met in the last year chatted with the friend I met in 1969.


    Tuesday morning my coworkers declared "Phyllis Day."  Everyone (even most of the eighth grade boys) wore pink.  A pink tiara, roses, and balloons completed the surprise.  I have sometimes hesitated to share my cancer experience at school, but Tuesday I was glad I had. 


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    I don't know that I'll have the energy to throw myself a big party every year, and I definitely don't want an annual fuss over me at work.  However, the festivities helped me focus on the sweet side of my bittersweet cancer anniversary. 


    So when your cancer anniversary arrives, take a few minutes to mourn your losses.  Then celebrate.  Have a party.  Go out to dinner.  Take a special trip.  You are alive.

Published On: April 23, 2008